Alexandra “Alex” Maniego Eala made history for Philippine tennis as she won the 2022 US Open Girls’ singles title on Saturday (early Sunday in Manila) following a 6-2, 6-4 upset win over no. 2 seed Lucie Havlickova.
The feat, which no other Filipino before her has achieved, was fashioned before a packed, emotional, and loud Filipino audience that cheered her for 68 minutes at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York.
“I fought with my heart for this trophy. It’s not just my win. It’s all our win. And I did it not just for myself. But to help Philippine tennis,” said Eala in her post-match speech.
This was moments after she raised her hands to acknowledge her fans and supporters, and minutes later, hoisted the trophy during the awarding ceremonies.
Hours later, tributes from government officials and sports personalities poured in for the 17-year-old Filipino tennis phenom.
Malacañang hailed Eala for her historic victory as the first Filipino junior to win a Grand Slam tennis title – meaning a championship in one of the world’s four major tournaments, the others being Wimbledon and the French and Australian Opens.
Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said Eala’s win signifies the importance of a good program for and treatment of Filipino athletes.
She added that the Marcos administration seeks to improve the Philippine Sports Commission – incidentally headed by Alex’s uncle, Noli Eala.
Speaker of the House Martin Romualdez on Sunday also congratulated Eala for winning her first high-level pro tennis title.
“Once more, a young Filipina athlete showed the world what mankind could achieve with grit, determination, and perseverance.
Congratulations, Alex Eala, for showing us the way to greatness. The Filipino nation is truly proud of you, and we are forever grateful for your success on the global stage. Mabuhay ang Pilipinas,” he said.
PSC chairman Eala, who was appointed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to the post just this month, added: “The historic win of Alex is a testament to the Filipino spirit and our strength of character. It also proves that there is no shortcut to success.”
“Alex worked long hours and days and sacrificed being away from home to pursue her dream and achieve this milestone in her career. She has proven that the Filipino can be at par with anyone if given a genuine pathway for success. Truly a proud moment for the country,” said her uncle.
Philippine Olympic Committee President Rep. Abraham Tolentino said he expects more titles to come from Eala.
“Alex will go a long, long way in her tennis career, which, is just budding,” Tolentino said on Sunday.
Eala’s victory was a culmination of her arduous and steady climb from a junior netter dominating local tournaments to being a scholar of the Rafa Nadal Academy, a move that accelerated her development as a world-class athlete.
Nadal as inspiration
Eala said she has learned a lot from Nadal—the Spaniard who holds the all-time record of 22 Grand Slam men’s tournament titles—and through his academy.
“My idol will always be Rafa. Rafa has been a good role model,” said Eala, who now has three Grand Slam trophies on her shelf, following two junior Grand Slam doubles’ championships.
The US Open win was also Eala’s best finish as a singles player in Grand Slams after advancing to the semifinals of the 2020 French Open juniors.
Turning heads since 2017
Eala started getting noticed back in 2017. A team composed of Eala, Carmencita Carlos, and Gaby Zoleta stunned the Jordanians, 3-0, to win the crown in the Asia Oceania pre-qualifying zone tournament in New Delhi, India that year.
In January 2018, at the age of 12, Eala won the 2018 Les Petit As 14-and-under tournament in France, beating Linda Nosková in the finals.
Her campaign in France caught the attention of the Rafa Nadal Academy, whose coaches started talking to her parents Mike and Rizza. Alex and her “kuya” Michael Francis eventually joined RNA in Manacor, Spain under a scholarship.
Five months later in June, Eala made her debut in the Roland Garros netfest, making it to the second round.
In August 2018, the 13-year-old Eala claimed another international crown when she swept the singles and doubles at the ITF European Under 14 circuit in Hasselt, Belgium.
It was Eala’s third crown as an amateur on the European circuit after emerging as the winner in the two other events in the Netherlands and France.
In 2019, she made her junior Grand Slam debut at the US Open, the same year she was named the Milo Junior Athlete of the Year.
Eala made her pro debut on the ITF Women’s Circuit on March 4, 2020, as a junior in the $15K event at Monastir. But it would be seven months later at the Australian Open where she would win her first junior doubles’ title, partnering with Priska Madelyn Nugroho as they defeated Živa Falkner and Matilda Mutavdzic.
After reaching the semifinals of the 2020 French Open girls’ singles competition, Eala soared to No. 2 in the junior rankings.
In 2021, Eala leaped to the top 1000 in the WTA after winning her first pro title in the first leg of the ITF W15 Manacor in Spain in January 2021.
Eala bagged her second junior doubles crown as she and her Russian partner Oksana Selekhmeteva captured the French Open girls’ title.
They were the top seeds in the tournament, where they knocked off Maria Bondarenko of Russia and Amarissa Kiara Tóth of Hungary, 6–0, 7–5, in the final.
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